The Plot: German writer Sandra (Sandra Hüller) has left London and moved to the scenic mountain country in France with her teacher husband Samuel (Samuel Theis) and their visually-impaired young son Daniel (Milo Machado Graner). After an interview that Sandra is involved with ends abruptly, Samuel is found dead outside. He fell from the attic window and hit the shed on the way down. The only witness is Daniel. The police start up their investigation, revealing some uncomfortable home truths about this marriage…
The Verdict: Juries at the Cannes Film Festival don’t always get it right, given their preference for ponderous films that will leave people scratching their heads in bewilderment afterwards (Titane anyone?). They got it right this year though. Winner of both the Palme d’Or and the Palm Dog awards, Anatomy Of A Fall has the potential to go further though and has already been hotly-tipped for Oscar nominations. Though, whether it will qualify for both the international film category (it’s partly in English and French) and best picture remains to be seen. For now, it’s enough to just focus on the film’s many qualities as a crumbling family postmortem and a forensic courtroom drama that picks away at the many different perspectives in a criminal trial.
The title itself is a nod to Otto Preminger’s memorable drama Anatomy Of A Murder. Director and co-writer Justine Triet though is less focused on the alleged murder aspect though, leaving the film somewhat ambiguous as to guilt or innocence for most of its lengthy running time. She leaves the audience guessing at every twist and turn of the story, as a writer fights her case and tries to maintain a link to her son during the technicalities of a courtroom trial. Before we even get to meet the victim, he’s already dead. It’s a cleverly-structured narrative from Triet and her partner Arthur Harari, moving quickly into an investigation to keep the plot ticking away and not showing their hands just yet. The audience is in the dark as much as the investigators, who amusingly toss a crash-test dummy out of the attic window during crime scene reenactments. It’s one of the film’s few light moments, given the level of forensic detail that it gets into about this fatal fall.
The focused direction from Triet ensures that it remains a convincing character study throughout, as we watch Sandra explain her perspective on her husband while the deceased can’t speak for himself. Triet mines this for a number of key scenes to also make it an anatomy of a marriage too. Where the film really succeeds though is that it’s exceptionally well acted by Sandra Hüller (from the Oscar-winning Toni Erdmann) and the other actors too, including the young Milo Machado Graner. Hüller has this innate ability to just deliver a character without any bells, whistles or showboating. It’s full immersion into a character and her situation without coming across as obvious Method Acting. She also plays around with audience expectations – you want to believe her character, but yet there’s a niggling doubt pinballing around in your mind anyway. Intriguing.
Anatomy Of A Fall is time well earned and subsequently spent, even if it’s a tad overlong and has something of an anti-climax (take that, Hollywood if you want to try a remake). The anatomical study going on here is not just of a fall, but of other personal matters that are gripping even when dealing with seemingly mundane domestic affairs. The main takeaway though is that it’s an anatomy of a barnstorming performance from Hüller, surely a shoe-in for Best Actress. Anything less would be criminal.
Rating: 4 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
Anatomy Of A Fall
Anatomy of a performance
Anatomy Of A Fall (France / 15A / 152 mins)
In short: Anatomy of a performance
Directed by Justine Triet. Starring Sandra Hüller, Swann Arlaud, Milo Machado Graner, Samuel Theis.